Eclipse d20 – the Sword-Saint

Ilustration of the Genji Monogatari, ch.5–Waka...

Targets, all of them.

In d20 combat-oriented characters are normally generalists. They may have a few areas of special skill – as determined by various feats – but, for the most part, they’re skilled with a wide variety of weapons and tactics.

There’s some truth to that. A grand master of the staff can usually do pretty well with a short rod, or with a club, or with various other items. A man who’s good with a longsword can usually do something with a scimitar.

On the other hand, training with a longbow won’t help you much with a lance, or a whip, or with a katana.

Thus specialists – masters of a particular weapon – are often pretty popular. The trick here is not to go overboard with the concept; a character who is really good with a particular weapon, and who knows a selection of special tricks with it, is good. A character who’s so specialized that he or she is useless without that weapon is not so good. They’ll be overwhelming when they can use their chosen weapon and useless otherwise (a situation that WILL come up if the game master is doing his or her job) – and neither is all that much fun.

The sword is pretty popular for this kind of build, so I’ll call it a “Kensai”. If a thousand bad movies can rip off classical Japanese culture, so can I.

The Kensai:

Race and Attributes: Assign these as desired to suit the game. This is, after all, a general build, not a specific character. Kensai should ALWAYS have a good Dexterity. Constitution and Intelligence come after that.

Available Character Points: 264 (level ten base) + 24 (L1, 3, 6, and 9 Bonus Feats) + 10 (Disadvantages) +18 (Duties) +9 (Restrictions: the Kensai will never use a magical version of his or her favored weapon; it would sully purity of their technique) = 315 CP.

  • Those “Disadvantages” are usually things like being hunted by rivals, an irrational obsession with proving their own combat style supreme, being outlawed for killing people in the attempt to demonstrate their supremacy, having a reward out for their deaths, dependents, and annoying would-be students.
  • The Duties are usually related – teaching students who “prove themselves worthy”, rooting out enemy schools, serving some sponsor, redeeming their honor, or protecting the innocent.

First up, we’ll need the basics for a warrior-type: Hit Dice, BAB, Saves and Weapon Skills.

  • Hit Dice: 1d12 (L1, 8 CP) +7d10 (L2-8, 42 CP) +2d8 (L9-10, 8 CP). As the Kensai reaches high levels, he or she normally invests more in defensive skills than raw toughness.
  • Warcraft: +6 BAB (36 CP), +3 BAB, Corrupted/only in melee (16 CP), +3 BAB (Specialized/only with chosen weapon, 12 CP). That’s more complicated than it needs to be – but it does ensure that the Kensai is tolerably competent with a lot of weapons, good in Melee, and VERY good with his or her chosen weapon.
  • Base Saving Throws: Reflex +8 (24 CP), Will +3 (9 CP), Fortitude +3 (9 CP).
  • Proficient with All Simple, Martial, and Exotic Weapons (15 CP) – but No Armor (0 CP). In most depictions, the weapons specialist appears without armor – but they do seem to be at least competent with almost any weapon, if only because they can somehow adapt their training and skills somewhat.

That’s 179 CP already. Of course, combatant basics are always expensive.

Other Abilities (136 CP):

  • 13 Skill Points (13 CP): Spend these however you want – but skills like Tumble will prove very very useful. If they’re allowed in the setting, a Martial Art focused on the character’s chosen weapon is a must-have. With the Fast Learner ability below, that’s (13 x Int Mod + 31) skill poitns – which should be enough.
  • Adept (6 CP): pays half cost for any four skills – generally including Tumble, a Martial Art, and two other useful physical skills. That will cost 24 SP at level 10, leaving at least seven to invest in minor things. With a high intelligence, a Kensai may be quite skilled.
  • Augment Attack (12 CP): The Kensai gets a +4d6 bonus to damage when attacking in some specific situation. Less pleasant Kensai usually take standard Sneak Attack. Skirmishers may take when using their split movement to attack. Those with particular vendettas may take their bonus versus rival schools, particular types of monsters, and other targets. Sadly, if they want to get it whenever using their favored weapon (which they almost always will be), the triple-cost modifier for “almost all the time” kicks in, reducing the bonus to +d6+1.
  • Awareness (6 CP): Always on guard, a Kensai is very difficult to surprise.
  • Block (Melee) with Master (6 CP): Specialized/only with the user’s favored weapon.
  • Defender (4 CP): add (level/5) to AC as a dodge bonus. Corrupted/does not work if the user wears armor or carries a shield.
  • Fast Learner (6 CP): Specialized in skills for double effect, for +2 SP/Level.
  • Finesse (4 CP): A Kensai prefers skill and fine control to brute force. He or she may use his or her (Dex Mod) in place of his or her (Str Mod) in melee combat. Corrupted/does not work if the user wears armor or carries a shield.
  • Imbuement, Improved (8 CP): weapons of the user’s favored type gain a magical bonus of (Level/3) when welded by the Kensai. Corrupted/this only works with a personal weapon, which the user must spend at least three days practicing with to attune.
  • Improved Critical (6 CP): With the character’s favored weapon.
  • Improved Initiative +4 (4 CP). Corrupted/does not work if the user wears armor or carries a shield.
  • Lunge (3 CP): Specialized in the user’s chosen weapon only, this ability adds 5′ of reach to the use of that weapon as the user darts nimbly in and out.
  • Opportunist (6 CP): Once per round, when a melee opponent misses the Kensai due to non-armor bonuses, he or she may spend an Attack of Opportunity to make a counterattack against him or her.
  • Rapid Strike (4 CP): A Kensai is always focused on his or her opponents, and so may attack every four steps – thus, with Warcraft +12 with their chosen weapon at +12/+8/+4. Corrupted/does not work if the user wears armor or carries a shield.
  • Reflex Training (6 CP): A Kensai’s weapons are as natural in his or her hands as air is in his or her lungs. They may draw and sheathe weapons on or off action without it counting as an action up to (Dex Mod) times per turn.
  • Reflex Training (Combat Reflexes Variant) (6 CP).
  • Split Movement (4 CP): The Kensai may split his movement around an attack – moving, striking, and moving again. Corrupted/does not work if the user wears armor or carries a shield.
  • Trick (Stunning Attack) (6 CP): Wiser Kensai soon learn to deal with truly idiotic challengers, over-ambitious students, and similar nuisances without killing them. Less wise Kensai learn that it’s easier to run people through while they’re stunned.

That leaves 24 CP for some customization. In high-magic item games the Kensai will probably want to prepare for a specialized role – and perhaps boost their defenses a bit more with “multiple” on their block ability.

In low-item games, getting some boosts is most useful – so here’s a sample package for that.

  • Innate Enchantment (12,000 GP total “item” value, 13 CP).
  • Immunity/Dispelling and Antimagic (Common, Major, Epic, Specialized and Corrupted/only protects innate enchantments that provide personal augmentations, 9 CP). This is mostly important so as to save having to recalculate bonuses every time a “Dispel” of some sort gets thrown around. It wouldn’t need to be “Epic” for that – but I don’t want to have to worry about antimagic fields either.
  • Immunity/the normal XP cost of Innate Enchantments (Uncommon, Major, Trivial [only covers first level effects at caster level one], 2 CP).

That provides 12,000 GP worth of Virtual Items. In this case, we’re going with unlimited-use, use-activated, personal-only effects – for a total cost of 700 GP for cantrips and 1400 GP for first-level spells where the personal-only (x.7) modifier applies. Unfortunately, this only works well in low-magic worlds; in high magic worlds most items won’t stack with these enhancements.

  • (X)-Slayer (700 GP): Pick an opponent type and get a +1d6 bonus to melee damage when fighting that particular type of opponent. Sadly, the opponent type must be chosen when this ability is taken. Choose wisely…
  • Enhanced Attribute (1400 GP): Add a +2 Enhancement Bonus to a chosen attribute
  • Expeditious Retreat (2000 GP): Gain a +30′ bonus to all movement modes.
  • Force Shield I (2000 GP): Gain a +4 Shield AC, negate incoming Magic Missiles.
  • Fortune’s Favor II (1400 GP): Add a +2 Luck bonus to skills and attribute checks
  • Inspiring Word (1400 GP): Add a +1 Morale Bonus on saves, attacks, checks, and damage
  • Know Direction (700 GP). This just seems hand for a wandering swordsman. Who wants to get lost?
  • Resistance (700 GP): Add a +1 Resistance bonus to Saves.
  • Ward of Heaven (1400 GP): Add a +1 Luck Bonus to AC and Saves

That’s a grand total of 11,700 GP in value – leaving 300 GP. Unfortunately, hardly anything fits into that amount. Oh well.

The basics of this particular build were suggested by Mike, who wished to play such a character in Andrew’s campaign. I’m not sure how close this is to what he eventually wound up playing though.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

d20 – Summon Army

John Dee and Edward Kelley evoking a spirit

More! I want MORE!

First up for today it’s another question from Alzrius.

What sort of spell(s) would it look like to summon an army for a considerable amount of time?

I recognize that the problems with this request are the inherent relativity of the terms “army” and “considerable length of time.” As such, let’s presume that we’re talking about summoning no less than twenty (though certainly more) 2nd-level fighters (of a standard PC race, such as human) for 1 hour per caster level.

My instinct here was to use the rules for summon monster spells, wherein if you sink a higher-level spell into lower-level creatures, you can summon more of them, but between the number of creatures and the length of time you want them to remain, that rapidly becomes infeasible.

Hence, would a specialized spell that was less flexible than a standard summon monster spell (which allowed for a choice among several monsters, and could be scaled through lower-level summons) allow for such a spell to exist at sub-epic ranges? Certainly, not granting the standard celestial/fiendish template to “normal” creatures (which any standard humanoid race would surely be) would help too.

In short, what would the “summon army” spell look like?

Alzrius goes on to append the note that modern definitions of “army” tend to be awfully large – tens of thousands of men at a minimum – but spells like that are obviously going to be epic anyway.

Well, lets see now… The base point for comparison is indeed the “Summon Monster” spell template in The Practical Enchanter. To check the base for such a spell, a summoning spell for a specific CR2 creature can be cut down to level one. You just take the “one creature with a CR one above the listed limit” rule (I’d allow it; a second level warrior is hardly the most deadly CR2 creature out there) and the “only summons one type of creature” modifier and apply them to the level three base spell you need to summon CR2 creatures.

That’s potentially useful – but the one-round duration at level one means that your summoned warrior gets only one attack, which might well miss. A good old Magic Missile is more reliable, and Mage Armor is probably a much better defense. The duration of the summoning scales with level, but so does the damage of the Magic Missile and the duration of the Mage Armor.

To get twenty such creatures, we need +2 spell levels for 4d4, and another +2 spell levels for an additional 4d4 – for 8d4, averaging twenty.

That takes the spell up to level five. To get it to one hour per caster level is +3 spell levels – for a total level of level eight.

Either the fifth level version (Get’em Guys!) or eighth level version (Honor Guard) isn’t that bad a spell really. If you use the eighth level version your minions won’t be all that useful in any serious straight-up fight at the levels where you can cast the spell to summon them in the first place (unless you apply some special options to bring the spell level down), but sensible, loyal, and totally disposable minions have many non-combat uses. They can provide a suitable escort when riding into town, check for traps, pick up dangerous artifacts, dig ditches, go and hunt for food (and then vanish without eating any of it), act as servants, provide massed arrow support, create diversions, and so on. They aren’t too powerful, but they are fairly versatile and will be around all day.

Scaling up to a full-sized army using standard modifiers is trickier. The quickest way to do it is to summon squads instead of individuals. That’s a bit cheesy, but – once again – we’re talking second level warriors, so I’d be inclined to allow it.

Adding +2 levels jumps the CR of the summoned creatures to 5. Three level two creatures are CR5, so now we’re summoning 8d4 three-man teams. To keep this non-epic, drop the duration of the higher level version to one minute per level – keeping it at level nine and summoning sixty men for at least seventeen minutes. Call it “Charge of the Light Brigade“. Again, not the best ninth-level spell around, but there might be some uses for it – especially if you’ve got some way to power up the creatures that you summon.

Honestly, though, this is less than overwhelming. Meteor Swarm could wipe out this entire force in an instant. What we’ll want to apply next is the Compact metamagical theorem from Eclipse. Both the increase in numbers and the increase in duration can reasonably be taken as Metamagic – so we could use the theorem to take up to six levels off the spell; three for compaction and three to counter the metamagical boosts we’re building into the spell.

So: we’ll take a day to cast this (and probably store it when we’re done, -2 spell levels), use some expensive components (a selection of weapons perhaps, -1 spell level), owe a minor favor to the spiritual powers who are providing the spirits we’re summoning (-1 spell level), become exhausted when casting it (thanks to the strain of anchoring all those spirits, -1 spell level), and spend 100 XP casting it (-1 spell level).

OK. At CR7 we get six-man squads of second-level warriors – probably with a few siege weapons and such to go with their regular weapons. That’s a base of spell level six, reduced to five since we can only get those second-level warrior squads. We want one hour per level, so that’s +3 spell levels. We want a total of 8d4 squads, which is another +4 spell levels. Fortunately, we’re getting -6 spell levels from the Compaction theorem – which brings the total down to level six for “The Raising of the Lost Legion“. That’s pretty powerful – but we are requiring a day-long ritual and expensive components. If we drop those, leaving the favor, exhaustion, and 100 XP cost, we’re back up to level nine (“Iron Master of War“) which does seem suitable. A hundred and twenty men with siege weapons for a day isn’t really that big an army, and can still be dealt with fairly simply (Dispel Magic anyone?), but there are times I might prefer such a spell to Time Stop, Meteor Swarm, Summon Monster IX, or Gate.

Certainly not always, but I can think of some situations.

That’s about as far as we can go while still keeping our “summon army” spell non-epic.

Now, there are some “Army Creation” spells in the high-levels spells section of Eclipse:

  • Unseen Horde creates at least 500 invisible constructs roughly equivalent to a second-level fighter for one hour per level at level thirteen.
  • The Dark Hordes summons up to 36 CR worth of infernal beings with a maximum CR of 9 each for a years service (which could cover quite a few low-CR beings in groups) at level sixteen.
  • Army of the Dead raises 5000 HD worth of undead of up to CR 16 each and gives them some bonuses as an instantaneous effect (you’ve got to kill them to get rid of them) at level twenty.

Of course, level twenty is the level for spells such as Stars Like Dust, which makes the utility of armies somewhat questionable. Still, a variant on Army of the Dead which called forth a larger number of hit dice of creatures – limited to, say, CR 4 each and “normal” races only, plus giving up “complete control” in favor of “reasonably loyal” (in exchange, perhaps, for 20,000 hit dice in total) to colonize and work your land seems pretty reasonable.

A spell like Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth there would leave your upper-end dark lords without any real reason to go out and snatch populations – but if they’re casting 20’th level spells, they can probably handle getting some normal people to work for them anyway.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.